Eden and the Two Trees After the Fall

BibleThumbby Jerry Richardson12/3/14
The biblical account tells us that God had Adam and Eve ejected from the Garden of Eden lest they “…take also from the tree of life, and eat, and live forever”. What exactly is the meaning of that statement?

In her excellent article, Two Trees of Eden, Anniel says the following to me in one of her comments:

What I find most interesting in this whole matter concerns the Tree of Life because it seems to be such an integral part of the story of Eden. I am serious in asking what happened to Eden and the trees after the Fall. That truly was the whole point that came from my study of creation. So far no one has even acknowledged the promise of our part in the Tree of Life, as set forth in the last chapter of Revelation. Care to write an article on it? —Anniel

This article is my attempt to address Anniel’s question: “…what happened to Eden and the trees after the Fall”?  I wish to emphasize that I consider this discussion to be biblical speculation related to existing scripture.

Several scriptures in the Bible that very specifically talk about the “tree of life” and its location are found in Genesis and Revelation, here are two:

Out of the ground the LORD God caused to grow every tree that is pleasing to the sight and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.  —Genesis 2:9 NASB

‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes, I will grant to eat of the tree of life which is in the Paradise of God.’  —Revelation 2:7 NASB

I believe that the “tree of life” referenced in both Genesis and Revelation represents the same thing, whatever that may be.

Approaching Anniel’s question “…what happened to Eden and the Trees after the Fall”; I think it is necessary to address the nature of the two trees?  If we could know what the two trees were, then we could perhaps better address what happened to them.

I believe the importance of the “two trees” lies in their metaphorical essence.  I do not believe that we are discussing two “magical” fruit trees.  Of course that does not mean that the two trees could not or did not physically exist.  I think they did.  And by the way, there is no discussion, in the Bible, of either tree being an “apple” tree.

The proper understanding of metaphor and how it is used in the Bible is very important in the context of this discussion.

Metaphors are used so extensively in our language that we are often unaware that we are using them. Here is the definition of metaphor from WordWeb Pro: Metaphor: “A figure of speech in which an expression is used to refer to something that it does not literally denote in order to suggest a similarity.” 

The feature of similarity is important.  The truth of a metaphor is to be found in the similarity.  That truth is a type of equivalence called similitude.  In other words, with a metaphor we have similitude-equivalence and not exact-equivalence.

I believe that the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” is unquestionably a metaphor even though I believe that this abstract object was matched by a real physical tree—symbolism has always been important to mankind.

The tree of “knowledge of good and evil” has often been interpreted by those eager to criticize the Bible as being some sort of put-down against learning and knowledge.  This is so far-fetched that if it were not sometimes implied, it wouldn’t be worth addressing.  The reason that it is far-fetched biblically is that God could not have logically commanded mankind to “subdue” the earth if He had actually not wanted them to learn about the earth.  That would make God to be completely illogical, or to be a masochistic trickster.

So what happened to that “tree” after the Fall?  In my opinion it continued, at least until it died or was cut down, to exist as a physical tree; but it lost its specialness as being associated with the “knowledge of good and evil” and was simply thereafter ignored; it became one of just many other similar trees. No more harm could be associated with it.  The tree itself was never “good” or “evil”; it was a living, growing symbol of God’s only command to Adam and Eve.

With that aside, focus now on the “second tree”.  What was/is that tree?

The thought has previously crossed my mind that the “tree of life” referenced in Genesis might be a metaphorical reference to Jesus Christ.  Reflecting upon the above passages of scripture, I think that is correct.  And the reason why is that in Revelation 2:7 Jesus is himself telling the churches that he will grant them to “eat of the tree of life.”  Elsewhere Jesus referred to Himself metaphorically as “the bread of life.”

We know, per the Bible, that the saints (those saved) will have direct and personal access to both Jesus and the “tree of life”.

Here’s what the biblical commentator John Gill had to say:

will I give to eat of the tree of life; by which is meant Jesus Christ himself, in allusion to the tree of life in the garden of Eden; and is so called, because he is the author of life, natural, spiritual, and eternal; and because of his fruit, the blessings of life and grace, that are in him, of which believers may eat by faith, and which they find to be soul quickening, comforting, strengthening, and satisfying; and which are Christ’s gift to them, even both the food they eat, and the faith by which they eat, are his gifts. So Christ, under the name of Wisdom, is called the Tree of life, in Pro. 3:18; and this is a name which is sometimes given by the Jews to the Messiah. —John Gill

If we assume what a commentator such as John Gill advocates, that the “The tree of life” is a metaphorical reference to Jesus Christ, then a very simple, speculative answer to Anniel’s question is available.

There are two paradises pictured in the Bible.  The first is the Garden of Eden described in the opening chapters of the book of Genesis; and the second is “new Jerusalem” mentioned in Revelation 3:12; and described in Revelation chapter 21.

There seems clearly to be a connection between the first and second paradises mentioned in the Bible:

After the Fall Adam and Eve hid themselves from the presence of God (Gen_3:8); at the restoration God dwells with them forever in his tabernacle. The Garden of Eden was a place without fear, pain, crying, and death; the new creation is a place where “there will no longer be death, or grief, or crying, nor will there be pain anymore” (v. Rev_21:4).
Baker’s New Testament Commentary, Revelation 21:1-8, The New Jerusalem and The Tree of Life.

So my speculative answer to Anniel’s question, “…what happened to Eden and the trees after the fall” is the following:

  • The Garden of Eden was a precursor of the “New Jerusalem”; hence it was not simply an earthly, material (physical) garden; it was a co-located spiritual and material garden.
  • The “tree of life” was a manifestation of the presence of Jesus Christ.
  • As a result of Adam and Eve’s disobedience, God withdrew His presence from the physical location of Eden.  God (the triune God) includes God the Father, Jesus Christ, the “tree of life” and Holy Spirit, “the presence” of God.
  • The Bible paints the picture of that withdrawal as follows:

therefore the LORD God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken.  So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.  —Genesis 3:23-24 NASB

The collocation of spiritual Eden and physical Eden was severed.

The  only physical remains of Eden today is the location, presumed to be between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers somewhere in the vicinity of what today is Iraq, in the vicinity of Bagdad.  The spiritual remains of Eden are co-located with Jesus Christ awaiting the return of Eden, the “New Jerusalem.”

The thorny theological question, for me, is why exactly would God prevent access to the “tree of life” after the Fall?

There appears to be something extremely unacceptable (perhaps unholy) to God for a person who is disobedient to God to be immortal (“live forever”).  Indeed, the prime example we have of this from scripture is Satan.  Satan is immortal (an angel) and he rebelled against God.  We should accept, I suggest, as a premise that God views “sin” (disobedience) in a much more serious fashion than we as humans do.

God apparently does not see “sin” as just a temporary occurrence—our view is it happened, now it’s over, done, and forgotten—but God apparently views it as a permanent irreversible violation of His holiness.  Hence an immortal being, such as Satan, who has sinned has no way on his own of undoing, or blotting-out, the act; or perhaps more likely has no desire to undo or repent of that act.  Does that seem unintuitive?

We as mortals seem to assume that the emotions, desires, thoughts, feelings, commitments—mental, emotional, spiritual states—associated with mortals can simply be extrapolated to an immortal being by simple scaling—everything is the same, except it simply lasts forever.  Why do we assume that?

The mathematician Georg Cantor should have disabused us from this questionable assumption with his demonstrations of the unintuitive nature of infinite sets.  Cantor showed, for example, that an infinite-part of an infinite set is just as large as the entirety of the same infinite set—watch-out Euclidean Geometry students, in Cantor’s world a whole is not necessarily larger than any of its parts.

Here’s the speculative Biblical-analogy:  For an immortal being, a one-time disobedience of God (sin) has an infinite quality about it; and that infinite quality spans eternity.

So, I believe that God prevented Adam and Eve’s access to Jesus, “The Tree of Life” because—timing is here again important—Jesus had not yet paid the price for their sin, on the second of the three trees in the Bible, the “tree” of Golgotha; and so if they received immortality from Him, which in a personal encounter would apparently have been God’s permitted outcome, they would have been unforgiven sinners for eternity—and continued to exist in virtually the same status as Satan.

So God prevented their untimely access to immortality and required them to pursue the path of reconciliation with Him (God), which I believe that they did but have no specific scripture to support this view.  The path of reconciliation with God was first clearly demonstrated by Abraham:

And he [Abram] believed in (trusted in, relied on, remained steadfast to) the Lord, and He counted it to him as righteousness (right standing with God).  [Rom. 4:3, 18-22; Gal. 3:6; James 2:23.  —Genesis 15:6 AMP

Thus Abraham believed in and adhered to and trusted in and relied on God, and it was reckoned and placed to his account and credited as righteousness (as conformity to the divine will in purpose, thought, and action). [Gen. 15:6.]  —Galatians 3:6 AMP

I conclude that the “Tree of Life” in what was once Eden is now in the “New Jerusalem”—no longer physically located on planet earth.

 © 2014, Jerry Richardson

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15 Responses to Eden and the Two Trees After the Fall

  1. Timothy Lane says:

    One might note that Adam named all the animals before the Fall, so clearly the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil had nothing to do with general knowledge. One might also note that Genesis mentions all the trees with their pleasant fruits — but lists the two trees separately from that.

  2. Anniel says:

    Jerry, Thank you so much. This is most interesting to me. I have been pondering the matter and even begun writing a few thoughts but have felt that we are missing information somewhere. I love the idea of Christ not yet having paid the price for their sin on the tree of Golgotha, so they might have become more like Satan. I also feel that Adam and Eve did pursue the path of reconciliation with God. Not sure about the present location of the Tree of Life, but do feel it is still under the care of the cherubim assigned to the task. Your thoughts are most cogent.

  3. ronlsb says:

    Terrific piece, Jerry. Towards the end of the article you did state that you believe Adam and Eve began a path of reconciliation toward God, but had no scripture to support that. Sin, however, has left man with no desire to be reconciled to God (reference Psalm 14, 33, and Romans 3). If reconciliation is to occur, it must come from God himself, not man. And this is exactly what happened in the garden itself after the fall. God approaches Adam and Eve with garments made from the skin of animals to clothe their nakedness. In order for Him to provide the garments, the blood of the animals had to have been spilt. Surely this was a precursor to the only true sacrifice that could and would ultimately reconcile sinful man to a holy God, that of Jesus Christ on the tree at Golgatha. Those who trust in Christ alone for the forgiveness of their sins will ultimately eat of the tree of life mentioned in Revelation in the New Jerusalem.

    • Pokey Possum says:

      Thank you, Jerry, for a very well written and thought provoking article. Thank you, Ron, for completing this wonderful depiction of God’s love for mankind. He is truly a God of order and reconciliation, of mercy and forgiveness. He is self-sacrificing, and will sacrifice beautiful things He has created, for the redemption of sinful man. Who can fathom the depth of His love for us? When we consider these things, how can we not feel compelled to offer our meager praise and continuous thanksgiving?

  4. Anniel says:

    “The collocation of spiritual Eden and physical Eden was severed.”
    Jerry, this is a thought that really does haunt me as I reread your article again, again. The fate of the Tree of knowledge could really have meant little after the Fall, my mind can accept that. I am also pondering on the question of the “timeliness” of things. If God dwells outside of time, as many Jewish thinkers have speculated, then God’s timing may be truly as a day to Him, but a thousand years to us. We are presently creatures of time and so are limited in our understanding of what time really is, in spite of Einstein and atomic clocks.

    Back to pondering I go.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      If God dwells outside of time, as many Jewish thinkers have speculated, then God’s timing may be truly as a day to Him, but a thousand years to us.

      If God dwells outside of time, then the metaphor of his day being a thousand years to us is not a very good one. If God dwells outside of time, then a day, a thousand years, a million years or a billion years, as we understand them, would be all be the same for him as there is no time.

  5. Steve H says:

    You assume we are not discussing two “magical” fruit trees. If we were to, then they were guarded by a large imposing angel up until the Great Flood, when they were doubtlessly washed away.
    I appreciate your article, but sometimes I have to yield to Occam’s Razor.

  6. Pokey Possum says:

    A few years back I had several weeks confined to bed where I had ample time for contemplation. I realized that “time” is a natural by-product of Creation. I can only express a simplistic explanation – that our God, the orderly Creator, made our solar system (and the universe) to function according to natural laws of planetary orbits, rotations, and gravity with the resultant day/night cycles and seasons. It functions as a giant clock. Augustine came to the same conclusion around 400 AD.

    I wonder if we should think of time more as “where” than “when”. Perhaps this time is a place where man was created and a place where he has the opportunity to know God before he (man) dies, then he goes to a place of endless time. It is within reason to think that this place and the eternal place could have coexisted before the fall, but that God would have to separate the physical from the spiritual until such a time as all things are again made perfect. That would certainly explained the metaphors.

    I think it was C.S. Lewis who described time and eternity as being like a sheet of paper with an inch-long line drawn across the middle. The line represents what we know as “time”, and the rest of the sheet (and extending beyond into infinity) is eternity. God can be anywhere/everywhere on the sheet (and beyond), including anywhere/everywhere on the line. Which explains how He knows what I’ll be doing two years from now.

    If we could move at will anyplace along the line of physical time, then a thousand years could be just a twinkling of the eye. But we are burdened by the laws of physics. When we reach the end of days as described in Revelation, it sounds like the physical and spiritual places will again be one.

    The exception being hell. No God, no glorified bodies there. The absence of everything good. A wholely different kind of place. Certainly no pun intended.

  7. Rosalys says:

    Wonderful article, Jerry!

    Here’s the speculative Biblical-analogy: For an immortal being, a one-time disobedience of God (sin) has an infinite quality about it; and that infinite quality spans eternity.

    “So, I believe that God prevented Adam and Eve’s access to Jesus, “The Tree of Life” because—timing is here again important—Jesus had not yet paid the price for their sin, on the second of the three trees in the Bible, the “tree” of Golgotha; and so if they received immortality from Him, which in a personal encounter would apparently have been God’s permitted outcome, they would have been unforgiven sinners for eternity—and continued to exist in virtually the same status as Satan.

    So God prevented their untimely access to immortality and required them to pursue the path of reconciliation with Him…”

    And a corollary to this (and this comes from a sermon by a favorite preacher) is that had A & E not eaten the “apple” we may have gone on living for eternity as the non fallen angels. We are now lower than the angels, but we will one day be made higher than the angels. Talk about making lemonade from lemons! We, as sinners redeemed are much better off than we ever could have been had A & E not sinned.

    Also, about that tree. A & E had not yet sinned and therefore had no knowledge of evil. It was in the doing what God specifically told them not to that they gained that knowledge.

  8. Anniel says:

    I love the thoughtful comments on Jerry’s article. The idea of being sinners redeemed as a better state than if Adam and Eve had not sinned squares with my thoughts. Jerry, this is a great article to me. Thank you again.

  9. Jerry Richardson says:

    Thanks to all of you for your thoughtful, well-worded comments. Thanks to Anniel for asking me to write this article.

    This website, Stubborn Things, seems to attract a number of writers and readers who like to ponder-about biblical conundrums; the comments on this article demonstrate that nicely.

    Please be aware that I do not consider my little article to be, in any sense definitive of this extremely difficult; but interesting and, and I think, important theological subject.

    There are so many conceptual-directions that one can vector into. Ronlsb touched on one such concept: The symbolic, reconciliatory importance of God’s “spilling of the blood” of animals in order to clothe Adam and Eve—a precursor of Jesus’ sacrifice on the “third tree”, the cross. Ron’s comments are very timely for this article.

    Thanks to Timothy for mentioning the very clear fact—but a bit easy to miss due its obviousness—that the “tree of knowledge of good and evil” had nothing to do with general knowledge since God had Adam name (“to see what he would call them” [Gen. 2:10]) all of the animals before the fall. This obviously represents or symbolizes an early effort of animal taxonomy. Care to speculate, Timothy, on what in general someone would need to know to initially engage in such a potentially massive taxonomy effort?

    Several of you mentioned the concept of “timelessness.” I have a long-standing interest in this topic, due among other things to the fact that it relates to a number of areas of theoretical interest: Theology, Philosophy, Science, Mathematics, and probably others.

    As most of you are no-doubt aware, the concept of “time” itself is difficult. The Scottish philosopher John McTaggart [1866-1925] introduced and discussed two concepts of time which he called “A series” time and “B series” time. These two series represent two different ways that “events” can be arranged in time. “A series” time is our common, everyday perception of “tensed” time, i.e., the “future” moves through the “present” and into the past—time is a moving stream. “B series” time is “un-tensed”, i.e., there is no movement in “time”; all events, “future”, “present”, and “past” exist in a 4-dimensional block universe.

    One of the interesting things here (out of many) is that we can find support for either or both of these views in the Bible. For those who hold to the viewpoint that God exists completely outside of “time”; the “B series” offers a somewhat conceptually-clean explanation of how God, with his God’s-eye, simultaneous view of all events, “past”, “present”, and “future” could know the future—an explanation of prophecy. Those who define “timelessness” as “timeless eternity”—God’ reality including outside of “time”—are often attracted to this viewpoint, and it is usually considered that the famous verse in Exodus 3:14 (“…I AM THAT I AM…”)—God’s primary essence is his self-existence—supports the view of “timeless eternity” for “timelessness.”

    Those who hold to some version of “tensed” existence for God find a plethora of support for the “A series” of time in the Bible. This support comes from the many places in the Bible where God is described as reacting to events. These are too numerous to list but they include such incidents as the repentance of the people of ancient Nineveh:

    When God saw their deeds, that they turned from their wicked way, then God relented concerning the calamity which He had declared He would bring upon them. And He did not do it. —Jonah 3:10 NASB

    I am personally attracted to a conjunction of these two definitions for “timelessness.”

    On the one hand, I firmly believe that God exists outside of “time”; else I believe he could not have created “time”—making him constrained by “time.” Current scientific thinking connected with the poorly-named “big bang”—more appropriately “big expansion”—seems to require that time came into existence along with the energy and matter contained in the universe.

    On the other hand, I believe that God acts with regard to the “time” that he created and that He is aware of all “tensed” events; but that God is not now nor has he ever been located-in or constrained by “time.”

    In other words, I believe that a true account of the living God must take into account both the “tensed” (Series A) and “tenseless” (Series B) aspects of God in relation to “time.” And before you pooh-pooh this as an impossible contradiction please pause and reflect upon the fact that our best current scientific description of a sub-atomic particle is that it is BOTH a particle and a wave, sometime referred to as a “wavicle”—two seemingly contradictory descriptions.

    I am considering writing an article on these issues, but I would gladly hand that over to any of you. How about it Anniel?

    • Timothy Lane says:

      The knowledge Adam needed for his initial taxonomy would require knowing what he called all the animals. At the very least, he would presumably need enough words (involving things like colors, shapes, numbers) to describe them. Unless one thinks he anticipated Linnaeus, he probably didn’t need very much biological knowledge. (My high-school biology text noted that “gopher” can refer to 2 different small mammals or a type of turtle. And that doesn’t even take into account gopher wood.)

      • Jerry Richardson says:

        Timothy,

        What could we speculatively assume was the purpose of this naming exercise?

        • Anniel says:

          I’m interested in the aspects of time, especially, an article sounds wonderful, but I’m shy on the science side. Shy in both senses, by the way.

          Speculatively only on the taxonomy question, if Adam was to be steward of the earth he had to become familiar with the needs of that earth and its inhabitants. Perhaps observing and naming the animals helped him fulfill that responsibility with much greater knowledge.

          Kipling’s “Just So” stories add some humor to this mix.

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